"A Man's Need for Nurturing"
Joyce and Barry Vissell

Thomas and Ellen sat on the couch in our office asking for help with their sexual relationship. Thomas’ need for sex seemed far greater than Ellen’s, who many times felt so pressured she often gave in just to please Thomas. Because of this, their times of love- making often lacked the depth and richness they both wanted. Ellen was puzzled, because she described Thomas as a caring and sensitive lover. They both figured she simply had a decreased libido.

While they were talking, I couldn’t help but notice their body language. Thomas consistently leaned toward Ellen, while Ellen consistently leaned back away from Thomas. It was like he was pursuing her, and she was trying to get away. I pointed this out to them. Ellen blurted out how painful it was to feel pressured, even in a gentle and loving way. Although she loved Thomas very much, she often did not feel completely safe and relaxed being with him. It was as if he was wanting something from her she just couldn’t quite give. They were both frustrated.

It was clear to me that Thomas was needing and wanting nurturing. The big question, however, was what kind of nurturing. I asked him how often he asked Ellen to hold him the way a loving mother would hold a child. He looked confused, and then emphasized his role in their growing family as the “provider,” the strong one who held everything together. In other words, his answer was never.

I directed Thomas to lie on the couch with his head in Ellen’s lap, and to give permission to the little boy part of him to receive the nurturing he needed. After some initial resistance, he eventually had a breakthrough. Tears flowed as he realized how much he needed to be held and comforted as a child, rather than only as a man. Finally he spoke, “All this time I thought I was needing sex. I was really needing to be held as a child and just comforted.” 

Ellen, meanwhile, was elated. She now understood Thomas’ deeper need for nurturing, and why she so often pulled back from his wanting sex. She felt enormously relieved that her sexual drive was not the problem, but that she was needed as a nurturer, not a sexual partner.

Thomas and Ellen learned that this non- sexual nurturing was a vital practice for their relationship healing journey. They also learned that enough non-sexual nurturing would
allow their love-making to attain new heights of love and fulfillment.

Here are some other important guidelines for non-sexual nurturing:

1. Keep a clear boundary between non- sexual nurturing and sexual activity. Non-sexual nurturing involves the child part of you. Sexual energy (even subtle) at these times can be confusing. Keep them separate.

2. Allow room for verbal communication during the holding. During your time of being held, verbalize your needs as a child. If you are the one holding, speak gentle words of comfort, reassurance, and acceptance.

3. Make sure you both receive enough holding as a child. If only one of you is asking for nurturing, your relationship will become unbalanced.

4. Finally, remember that you also need the nurturing of friends, especially of the same sex. This is often especially difficult for men, but I have often experienced in the men’s workshops I lead that men need a kind of comforting that can only come from other men. This particular need can not be satisfied by a woman.

Information about the Vissels' upcoming retreats, books and toll free Phone numbers may be read at the end of the article 'What's in a Name' also in this issue.